It’s been more than four months since Schenectady City Councilwoman Barbara Blanchard fell ill, and the prognosis is no longer optimistic.
She is slowly recovering from a stroke, but at this point, she is still greatly limited in movement and all forms of communication.
Democrats are preparing for the likelihood that she will resign, unable to return to the City Council.
“It’s a real shame,” said Democratic City Committee Chairman Richard Naylor. “It certainly looks like, as time progresses, it’s going to be very difficult for her to run again.”
Blanchard was to face re-election this fall. Last year she had expressed some worries about running again because a progressive neurological disease has forced her to use a wheelchair. But she had been optimistic about the upcoming election until she was stricken on Aug. 29.
She is a very popular council member. Democrats had confidently said they thought she could win re-election even though she would not be able to do much door-to-door campaigning by wheelchair. Many city houses are accessible only by stairs.
Now, however, everything is in doubt.
“We certainly want to be human and let her recuperate,” Naylor said.
He and council members said they would be happy to wait if she were recovering. But, they said, it’s not looking good.
“I think she’s coming to a decision,” Naylor said. “It looks very pessimistic at this point.”
Still, he said, Blanchard has until April to make a decision about running for re-election. There’s still time for an improvement in her condition.
He wishes she could return.
“She’s very talented. She’s very well liked. It’s a very unfortunate and sad situation,” Naylor said.
Typically, party leaders would prefer to have an absent council member resign so that a candidate can be appointed to the position and thus run for election with some experience and name recognition.
But, he said, Democrats won’t pressure Blanchard to give up her seat.
“You have to let the person and the family come to a decision,” he said. “We want to be supportive of the family, and fair.”
Council President Denise Brucker agreed.
“It’s a real dilemma. On one hand, how long is too long?” she said. “But on the other hand, you have to give people time to recover. I think that coming back or not coming back is a decision Barbara has to make.”
Blanchard’s husband, Art Edelstein, said Blanchard has not made a decision yet. She is home now, after months in a nursing home, and is undergoing outpatient rehabilitation.
She is not making the sort of progress that would lead him to be able to predict that she could recover by a certain date.
“Her return to active work is undecided at the moment,” he said.
He said Blanchard is focusing on rehabilitation, not political decisions.
Council members said they were content to wait.
“I want her to be the one to make the decision, after she has talked to her doctors,” Brucker said. “Barbara has always done the right thing and with the right intentions. It’s her decision to make.”
Councilwoman Margaret King added that she’s deeply distressed by Blanchard’s illness, and that no council member would hurry Blanchard in deciding whether to resign.
“I think what we’ve got to do is keeping going with the people we have, and try to be more compromising so we don’t have all these 3-3 votes,” King said. “All we can do is our best with what we’ve got, and hope that she is able to make a decision.”
Mayor Gary McCarthy, who recalled running with Blanchard in her last two elections, said Blanchard may not have ever intended to run again.
“She had indicated to me then that that run might be her last time,” he said of Blanchard’s 2009 campaign.
“I wish her the best. I enjoyed working with her. I’m very sorry she’s going through these difficulties.”
No other city politician in recent memory has been out of work due to illness for this long, McCarthy said.
But there is no rule against years-long recoveries. Council members can retain their seat for their entire term, even if they are absent for years, according to state law.
And council members made it clear they would be content to wait until the end of her term, in honor of her great service to the city. They noted her creation of the successful Greenmarket, as well as her work with ReTree Schenectady, the Girl Scouts and other community organizations.